January 31: A giant day in space history

From satellite launch to the moon in a very short time

Alan Shepard, in his space suit makes last minute preparations for his historic ride into space, May 5, 1961. (AP Photo)
Alan Shepard, in his space suit makes last minute preparations for his historic ride into space, May 5, 1961. (AP Photo)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Exactly 13 years from the day the US entered the space age, astronaut Alan Shepard blasted off for the moon — which was exactly 10 years after NASA put a chimp into suborbit.

On January 31, 1958, the United States entered the Space Age with its first successful launch of a satellite into orbit, Explorer I.

Just 3 years to the day later — January 31, 1961 — NASA launched Ham the Chimp aboard a Mercury-Redstone rocket from Cape Canaveral. Ham was recovered safely from the Atlantic Ocean following his 16 1/2-minute suborbital flight.

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And exactly one decade later, astronauts Alan Shepard, Edgar Mitchell and Stuart Roosa blasted off aboard Apollo 14 on a mission to the moon.

Shepard was the first American to fly into space when he blasted off months after Ham, on May 5, 1961. Ten years later, he was the 5th human to walk on the moon. He was the commander of Apollo 14 and was the first to land on lunar highlands on the moon. His moon trip is likely best remembered because he brought a golf club with him and played golf on the moon.

So the next time you look at the moon, remember Alan Shepard left golf balls up there. Shepard died at 74 on July 21, 1998.

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